By Depelsha McGruder
This month, I have been heavily reminded of the reason MOBB United exists. As you probably know, the organization started following multiple police killings of unarmed Black boys and men that were unjustified, but were not punished under the law. Although our mission started in response to police brutality and unwarranted use of deadly force by law enforcement, it doesn’t end there. This is because police brutality that leads to death usually happens at the end of a very long process of constant harassment of Black men and boys throughout their lifetimes. When Eric Garner was choked to death by NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo for selling loose cigarettes, he had been arrested twice already that year. When Philando Castile was pulled over, allegedly for a broken taillight, and fatally killed while reaching for his license and registration, he had already been pulled over 49 times in 13 years.
Black males endure a life filled with misperceptions and harassment that begins before they even reach puberty. The suspicion they face doesn’t just come from law enforcement officers. Misperceptions of Black boys and men also abound with teachers, store clerks, and neighbors, who often assume on sight that they’re likely to be up to no good. Just this week, a friend’s teenage son wrote a column (that you will see featured among our stories this month) after a White adult female neighbor racially profiled him and alerted neighbors online of his presence in his own neighborhood. He was simply sitting down and talking with a friend outside her house. I’ve heard this same story dozens of times. Trayvon Martin died senselessly because of overzealous “neighborhood watch.”
Our boys’ skin and bodies are weaponized at a very early age. And yes, I said our boys. Because though there absolutely are challenges that other populations, including Black girls, face that are very worthy of consideration, support and advocacy, the Black (and brown) male experience of navigating life in America is unique. One of the things I often do in MOBB United meetings when speaking to new potential members is ask the women in the room to raise their hands if they have ever been harassed or targeted by a police officer. Very few, if any, hands go up. But when I ask whether any Black male in their family—son, father, brother, uncle, nephew—have been harassed, brutalized or unfairly targeted by police, inevitably, every hand is raised.
Needless to say, we believe in justice and equality for all people, and I know the value and power of intersectionality, which is recognizing that all of our struggles are overlapping and ultimately connected. That is why we enthusiastically support and join together with other organizations who are fighting for justice for all or for other specific disenfranchised groups. But when someone responds to a Black male’s experience by reminding them of all of the other people who have been harassed and killed TOO (without regard for the difference in their daily experience), it is the equivalent of saying “All Lives Matter” to the Black Lives Matter movement. Of course, Black boys and men are not the only people to be harassed and killed, but statistics show that they are most likely, in fact three times more likely to be killed by a police officer than anyone else. Unlike others, they are often deemed guilty and dangerous on sight, often without the benefit of conversation or negotiation, before their lives are changed or snuffed out forever.
This is why Moms of Black Boys United, Inc. and MOBB United for Social Change, Inc. exist. Our sons are worthy of having someone fighting for them. We seek to be a comprehensive resource and voice for moms of Black boys and men. We are striving to be experts in the Black male experience, which is fraught with people second guessing them, expecting less of them, and viewing them as superhuman yet not human at all at the same time. We are particularly focused on all of the factors that lead to Black boys being funneled into the school-to-prison pipeline. We are equipping moms and sons with resources to help them navigate systems—education, criminal justice, and mental health—so that they will be prepared to advocate successfully in any situation. We are advocating for policy change—at the local, state, and federal levels—so that after we’ve done all that we can to ensure our sons’ success, we know that they have a safety net of justice and accountability. If we are successful, the gains we make on behalf of our sons, who are often the #1 target for discrimination and brutality, will ultimately benefit all disenfranchised groups.
Clearly, we have a long way to go. But I urge you to join us in the struggle by becoming a member or donor of MOBB United. Thanks to everyone who supported us in any way during our first year. More to come!